There's a lot more ice on Mars than we previously thought—enough to fill Lake Superior—which is very good news for Elon Musk.
A huge swath of Mars' Utopia Planitia region is covered with a sheet of ice, according to a study published Monday in Geophysical Research Letters by University of Texas at Austin. The ice measures at 260 feet by 560 feet, and is between 50 percent and 85 percent ice—the rest is dust or rocks.
NASA confirmed the existence of ice on Mars last year, and this study shows how the expanse of that ice shelf. The discovery is significant as a potential source of water for future Mars explorers, as well as for scientists' search for life on the red planet.
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"Where water ice has been around for a long time, we just don't know whether there could have been enough liquid water at some point for supporting microbial life," said Jack Holt, a research professor at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, and a co-author of the Utopia paper, in a release.
The researchers used data from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to analyze 600 overhead passes to determine the size of the ice mass. It is estimated the ice is covered in a layer of dirt, but how much isn't known—somewhere between three feet and 33 feet of Martian soil.
But that doesn't mean Mars researchers couldn't get to it one day. In fact, it's among the most accessible ice sources found on the planet so far.
"This deposit is probably more accessible than most water ice on Mars, because it is at a relatively low latitude and it lies in a flat, smooth area where landing a spacecraft would be easier than at some of the other areas with buried ice," Holt said in a release.
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